How an Anti-Gun Control Tweet Spiraled Into a Messy Debate about Cincinnati Public Schools

A Cincinnati Public School Board member called GOP anti-gun control talking points "complicit" in mass murder. The Hamilton County GOP in turned called Cincinnati Public Schools "terrible." It's a hot mess, y'all, but let's untangle it together.

Cincinnati Public School Board, including member Mike Moroski, third from right - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Cincinnati Public School Board, including member Mike Moroski, third from right

Well that escalated quickly.

In the wake of last week's tragic mass shooting at the Fifth Third Center downtown, the now-achingly familiar debate around gun control has emerged front and center yet again. As it heated up over the weekend, it took some extreme, maybe unnecessary, turns on local Twitter — as issues are likely to do on the terse social media site.

So what's real and what's social media hyperbole? Read on. But first, here's the juicy Twitter battle.

At around 9 a.m. Saturday, fresh from maybe one too many cups of coffee that was maybe just a little too strong, someone using the Hamilton County GOP's official twitter account tweeted the following: "Gun. Control. Won’t. Fix. This. So stop it. Intelligent people know that a law won’t stop a depraved soul. Guns are part of America. You cannot confiscate ALL the guns. The solution you propose WILL NOT WORK. SO stop! It’s a STUPID talking point that alienates half of America."

Strong words. The county GOP's social media person had enough steam to take on some haters as the tweet gained attention.

One of those critiquing the party was Cincinnati Public School Board member Mike Moroski, a Democrat. Moroski, perhaps also in the grips of a little extra caffeine himself, took the debate from zero to 100 in less than 280 characters by saying the ideas the county party expressed made them complicit in murder.

"At least it’s not complicit in murdering innocent Americans like your talking point of 'guns for all!' I’d much rather piss off a gun-loving ideologue than have blood on my hands. Our kids are afraid to go to school. Something has to change."

The GOP shared that tweet, saying it was impossible to talk to people like Moroski.

"Fellow Cincinnatians, this is what a member of Cincinnati’s failing school board thinks of us," the Hamilton County GOP account tweeted. "He thinks we are 'complicit in murdering innocents.' A very sad time for civility and intelligence in the public debate. How can we even talk to people who call us murderers?"

Moroski pushed the argument further.

"At least we didn't steal half a billion dollars from kids like your pals at ECOT," he tweeted, referencing what had been the state's largest online charter school. Ohio is seeking $62 million in tax payer funds from the now-shuttered school and its founder, prolific Republican donor Bill Lager.

That's when the Hamilton County GOP basically fired the nukes in a tweet calling CPS "terrible" and suggesting that smart people send their kids to private schools. The county party later deleted the tweet, but multiple Twitter users captured it in screenshots.

"You stole it from the taxpayers with huge tax increases and no results," the tweet read. "Take Walnut (Hills High School) away and the Cincinnati schools are terrible. Thoughtful people have to send their kids to private schools or move to Sycamore, Indian Hill, or anywhere NOT Cincinnati. Everyone knows this."

Moroski then asked for an apology to the district from Hamilton County GOP Chairman Alex Triantafilou, which seems unlikely to come.

The now-deleted tweet about CPS, captured and disseminated by Moroski and other Democrats, drew some harsh words — but also some support — on Twitter and Facebook.

"From a life-long conservative, the @HamCoGOP account has long been an embarrassment," one tweet critical of the party's tweet about CPS reads. "Nothing but trolling and antagonism. Could not be less professional. Need a change in whomever is running that account. Or perhaps a change in the party’s vision and leadership."

A number of other CPS parents, Democrat elected officials and others piled on.

So, what are the facts?

• First, is talk of gun control alienating to half the country, as the Hamilton County GOP claimed in a poll?

Not exactly. But the popularity of gun control varies widely and depends on the timing and phrasing of polling.

Proposed gun control measures — from expanded background checks for gun buyers to outright bans on "assault style" weapons — vary in their scope and popularity. Recent polls suggest stronger background checks, by far the most popular idea, have had as much as 80 percent public support this year. And a poll released in February this year conducted by Politico and The Morning Consult after the murder of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. found roughly two-thirds of Americans supported tighter gun regulations — a far cry from calls for gun control being alienating for half the country.

But high initial poll numbers can come down as details emerge about restrictions and as gun rights groups work against them. Support for stricter gun laws also seems to swell in the days and weeks after a mass shooting events like the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando or the mass shooting in Las Vegas last year. But that swell in support often fades over time.

• Does opposing gun control make an elected official complicit in gun murders? And, more broadly, does gun control work?

Hard to know what to do with this one. How do you measure complicity in this sense? Legally, no, it clearly does not. Morally? That depends on your politics. That leads to a second, bigger question, though: Does gun control work? Gun control supporters point to statistics showing much lower rates of gun murders in countries with tighter gun restrictions. For example, the U.S. had roughly 30 gun homicides per 1 million people in 2012. Many countries with tighter restrictions had far fewer.

Gun rights supporters point to Switzerland, with its relatively large number of gun owners, as a counter example. The country had far fewer gun deaths than the U.S. But others argue that Switzerland is different because many of those guns are owned by those who completed military service. They also argue that the country has in many ways stricter gun laws than the U.S.

Second Amendment supporters say there are other factors that lead to those lower rates, and that restricting access to guns won't stop people from using them illegally, especially those who are suffering from mental illness. Fountain Square shooter Omar Santa-Perez committed the shootings with a legally-obtained 9 mm pistol. He also struggled with apparent paranoid delusions that may have contributed to his crime. Those on both sides of the gun control debate have seized on these facts to press their claims.

• Is CPS "failing?"

Not really. But its level of success depends on the metric you look at.

CPS certainly isn't getting less popular — in the past five years, the district has gained more than 2,500 students. Currently, with more than 35,500 students, CPS has the highest enrollment it has had in well over a decade. CPS also has several high-performing magnet schools, including Walnut Hills High School, the No. 1 public high school in the state last year and one of the best in the nation.

But as the Hamilton County GOP's tweet suggests, there is more to Cincinnati Public School District than Walnut. And the district is near the bottom of state rankings. Out of Ohio's 608 public school districts, CPS ranked 574th last year.

The district has a four-year graduation rate of about 73 percent. That's about the same as similar districts, but well below the state's average of 84 percent.

But there are some mitigating factors in that ranking.

First, educators quibble with the state's rankings, saying they don't always accurately capture real growth and learning taking place in public schools. The Ohio Department of Education is actually adjusting its standards and its focus this year by putting less emphasis on things like standardized tests and more on post-graduation outcomes for students.

Urban districts like CPS are saddled with a number of challenges suburban and many rural districts don't encounter. Higher levels of poverty, lower property values and property tax receipts (which fund schools through a still-unfixed system the Ohio Supreme Court found unconstitutional two decades ago) and continuing residential segregation all mean more challenges for inner-city schools.

Indian Hills Exempted Village School District, which the Hamilton County GOP mentioned in its tweet, had a 97 percent graduation rate last year. But it also spent $16,000 per pupil — much more than CPS' $10,000 a year. And just 6 percent of students in the district are economically disadvantaged, compared to about 80 percent of the students served by CPS.

When you compare CPS to other districts with those challenges, public schools in the Queen City actually do better than peers. CPS ranks 13 spots above Akron, 23 spots above Columbus, 28 spots above Cleveland and 33 spots above Dayton in Ohio's rankings. The district's progress over the past decade has even drawn national attention, though clearly there is still work to do.

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